How did I get here? With a lot of good luck - and with the help of an enormous number of people! This is truly the case of "the perfect storm."
The Beginning - Spring 2006
I started curling on February 19, 2006, after seeing curling during the Torino Olympics. I was working on the 5 am newscast (I'm a director for NBC's San Francisco station, KNTV) and curling was on when I was sitting in the newsroom prepping my show at 3 am. But it was really my brother, Keith, who had the fascination with it.
During a midday newscast, I worked, we ran a story about the local curling club holding an open house. I thought this would be the perfect thing to do with Keith. So, on a Sunday morning, we went over to Sharks Ice in San Jose to give it a try.
The place was jammed! I'd guess there were 150 or so people there for the event. We ended up in a group with Jerome Larson (who all you curlers out there will know has been instrumental in starting arena curling clubs across the west.) We only got to slide about 4 times, but Jerome's enthusiasm was extraodinary - and when he said that there were only about 15,000 curlers in the country and relatively few women curling competitively, a dare was born. My brother asked me what I thought it would take to make it to nationals in the first year. I was loving this crazy curling thing, the club members were warm and welcoming, and, well, I didn't have much else going on in my life. I desperately needed a project and here one was!
I went home and immediately signed up for lessons. The class started about 6 weeks later and it was packed! There were about 48 people at the start, with a long waiting list. We worked on skills for the first 6 or so weeks, then had a mini-league a the end. Jerome Larson, Allan Barber, Tim Naeglin, Wes Seeger, Lyle Sieg and Bill Cole were some of my early instructors and boosters. (And a special thanks to Bill Cole who was so supportive and understanding when I wanted to practice in my own weird way.) It took me 8 weeks (and weight lifting) to be able to get a rock to the other side of the ice with proper technique, but by the end of the 12 weeks, I could feel things really starting to come together. (Photo above: Me in the very early days - notice the sneakers and strap on slider!)
Competitive Season 2006 - 2007
Even though I started curling on a competitive dare - the best part of curling has always been the people. The club quickly became like a second family. Over the summer, I practiced and played in a league. In the fall, I played on a team co-skipped by Allan Barber and Barry Ivy, and with Mike Loomis and Beverly Van Pelt.
Allan and Barry were extraordinary mentors - teaching me how to play the game and how to manage myself and a team. They also helped me to put together a team to playdown for the Club National Championship in spring of 2007.
That team was Beverly Van Pelt (third), JoDee Dike-Johnson (second), Karen Officer (lead), and Barry as our coach. JoDee and Karen are deaf and were already in training for the Deaflympics in 2007. (They helped Team USA to win silver at that event.)
To get to nationals, we had to beat a team of ladies from Arizona, some of whom had been curling for more than 25 years. That playdown was a turning point in my curling career and my life. I struggled with competition anxiety and my ability to manage stress. And, I had a history (at least in individual sports) of being the more skilled competitor and still losing the match. I cannot thank Coach Barry enough for teaching me how win even when I was the less-able player, how to give a "best in my life" performance under the highest pressure, and how to separate my sense of self from my success and failure in activities.
(Photo to left: The team after winning the MoPac Club playdown. L-R, Gabrielle, Beverly, JoDee and Karen)
USWCA - Another stroke of luck was getting involved in the US Women's Curling Association (USWCA.) I was able to go to a 5 & Under event (a competition for curlers with 5 or fewer years of experience) in February of 2007 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. This event was the week before Club Nationals, and the extra practice on good ice was a key to preparing for that event. We even won the B-event!
USWCA 5 & Under team in Grand Forks North Dakota, February 2007 - (Gabrielle, Joanne W. (Grand Forks), Margery, TC).
The "Team of 7" (Barry, Alice M., Nikki, Gabrielle, Mason, Mike L. and Hilary (not pictured)) Only four people normally play on a team, but some of us were traveling so much that season, that our regular subs played more than we did. The "Team of 7" won the league and was a precurosr to 2008's monumental "Team of Many."
Pacific International Cup - I was also able to get a spot on the Oregon women's Pacific International Cup team. Throwing last rocks for a big upset win in the last game was a major confidence booster.
(Photo above: A wide view of the PIC competition at the Richmond Curling Club in Richmond, British Columbia. )